Fingers lurch across the page. Green mechanical pencil stutters, stops, surges again, scribbles, x-es out, crosses off. Forbidden. The rules of timed writing exclude editing. Write, free flowing, whatever comes, get it down, pen your mind to the page, no pause--though, what if I am staring at an image and the words won’t come? Like, the Christmas tree in the bistro corner--how to describe the gold ribbon flowing through the artificial branches?
A word lurks somewhere in the darkness, behind a wall, a locked door, trapped in a spider web way down deep. A moment ago, it took seconds for “artificial” to arrive in my brain, to travel to my fingers--my mind an empty hole, even the word “fake” slumped down in the basement, rusting chains pulling at its legs until it muscled its way to the top of the stairs. Back to the ribbon--does it weave, river, lace, snake through the branches? Which one is right? Doesn’t matter. Don’t edit. No checking the thesaurus. Move on. Fix it later.
See the man beside the tree, in front of the window? The sun glares on his full face. Squinting, he shifts his chair; my shoulders thrust forward as it scrapes across a squeaking chalkboard. Grey hair, unkempt beard--oh gosh how long it took me to plug in the word "unkempt." Should it be unruly? Curling? Something better? Move on.
Gold wedding ring on his left hand, purple fine gauge sweater layered over a bulging waistline, frayed blue jeans brushing the white cotton socks tucked into scuffed leather Topsiders. He gestures to the man across from him whose face is puffed and pink--too much Thanksgiving food, or whiskey last night, given the bloodshot eyes. Whiskey drinker slouches in the chair--extended legs reach across the aisle like the low side of a see-saw outfitted in bone colored kakis. In an accent, faintly English, he discusses joint-venture capitalists while the fine white hair flops on his forehead like, like, what? I don't know--move on.
A stringy haired woman sits with her back to me, face encased in black-armed sunglasses she wears inside. Why? Prescription? Forgot her glasses? Eye surgery? Her red wool coat crumples to the floor. She reaches down to tuck it on the back of the wrought iron chair, still holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand—nope—paper—no--cardboard. Move on.
Turning, she catches me staring. Her pale face is wrinkled white leather; she leans on her palm, blue veins pulse from her bony hand. I look away; cast my eyes down, just a coincidence she’ll think, I’m not writing about her. She leans her face back into the hand and I see swollen knuckles, evidence of age that doesn’t appear on the thin frame I view from behind.
Glance at the watch. Ten minutes is up. Hand cramps. Brain hurts more. Words stumble and lurch and stagger across the blue lined page. Pat my pocket for the keys. Shrug into a jacket. Close the notebook. Gather the folders. Toss my cup.
Take a breath.